During much of Dianne Feinstein’s 20 years in the U.S. Senate, I lived in California and wrote political commentary for two San Joaquin Valley dailies. Regardless of my topic, out of professional curiosity, I asked my subjects’ off-the-record opinion about the California governor and their local congressional representatives.
When I inquired about Feinstein, most replied with indifference. At no point did I sense voter enthusiasm about Feinstein, or detect the feeling that, in their minds, her re-election was paramount to California’s well-being.
Yet, after Republican Sen. Pete Wilson resigned in 1991 to run for governor, Feinstein won the 1992 special election, and was then re-elected five times – 1994, 2000, 2006, 2012 and 2018, a remarkable achievement. Prior to her Senate success, Feinstein came in third in the 1975 San Francisco mayoral election to winner George Moscone, and lost the 1990 gubernatorial general election to Wilson. As so often happens in politics, death, retirement and shifting winds played a major role in Feinstein’s ascendancy.
Elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1969, Feinstein served as the board’s president in 1978, during which time Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated. Feinstein succeeded Moscone as mayor, and Wilson’s decision to give up his Senate seat opened up national office opportunities for Feinstein which she capitalized on. When fellow Democrat Alan Cranston retired in 1993, Feinstein became California’s senior senator.
Once an established incumbent, and even though California was not yet the solidly blue state it is today – Republican Wilson was, after all, just a few years removed from his governorship – Feinstein coasted. Feinstein’s uninspiring GOP challengers Tom Campbell, Dick Mountjoy and Elizabeth Emken eased her path.
As Feinstein’s Senate seniority advanced, she got plum assignments, including with the Senate Rules Committee. Feinstein also chaired the Select Committee on Intelligence, an ironic appointment since, as later discovered, she was chauffeured by a Chinese operative the FBI suspected of gathering government secrets before he absconded back to China.
Considered a moderate when she arrived in Washington, Feinstein quickly adopted the established Democratic positions, especially on an issue that roiled Congress from her career’s inception to its end: immigration.
In the early 1990s, at a press conference on the California-Mexico border, Feinstein said that illegal immigration was too costly to allow it to continue. In California alone, Feinstein continued, taxpayers spent $2 billion annually on illegal immigration. Feinstein added that illegal immigration involved a battle for “space” between the aliens and citizens – space for jobs, for classroom seats and for housing. More immigration means less space for citizens, said Feinstein.
Thirty years later, however, Feinstein joined the Senate’s open borders faction. Over her three decades in the Upper Chamber, Feinstein’s immigration grade dropped from C to D.
Unbeknownst to the public, Feinstein also championed private immigration bills. She introduced more bills that protected illegal immigrants from deportation than any other legislator. Her singular attempts to circumvent immigration laws to provide for her special causes mostly involved tourist visa overstays. Some remained unlawfully present for as long as 17 years after their visas expired, hardly compelling circumstances that require Senate intervention.
On October 2, Gov. Gavin Newsom named EMILY’s List President Laphonza Butler to fill the remaining 15 months of Feinstein’s term. EMILY’s List works to elect female Democrats who support abortion rights. Per an August Federal Election Commission filing, Butler was a Maryland resident. Butler was then quickly sworn into office by Vice President Kamala Harris, for whom Butler had worked on Harris’ failed 2020 presidential campaign.
What happens next in the post-Feinstein era is uncertain. A special election involving Butler is probable, but no one knows whether the appointee or any of the other declared candidates for the full six-year term will run. Announced candidates Reps. Barbara Lee, Adam Schiff and Katie Porter are evaluating their decisions vis-à-vis the special election.
Despite California’s whopping $32 billion budget deficit, its affordable housing crisis, a soaring homeless population, endemic smash-and-grab crime and a collapsed education system, whoever permanently replaces Feinstein will vote straight “yea” on immigration expansion bills – as if more immigration is the solution to California’s monumental problems. Lee, Schiff and Porter have F- immigration grades from NumbersUSA.
Feinstein is gone, but her age, 90, and her vast $64 million wealth, exclusive of prime real estate holdings, raise questions about imposing term limits, and whether millionaires married to billionaires can fairly represent the average citizen. Feinstein commuted from San Francisco to D.C. on her private $6 million Gulfstream G650 jet. Term limits and personal wealth should but will never be considered as candidacy restrictions.
Still, Feinstein’s congressional pro-immigration allies can take comfort that her replacement will carry on with the departed senator’s sovereignty-eroding immigration expansion legacy.
Copyright 2023 Joe Guzzardi, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Joe Guzzardi is a Project for Immigration Reform analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at [email protected].